Minnesota pheasant hunters had hoped for good news, and they got it.
The state’s ringneck population  index increased 68 percent from 2011, according to the August roadside survey released Tuesday. A mild winter followed by a warm spring helped boost the population, after a brutal winter in 2010 pounded  it.
However, the population remains 51 percent below the 10-year average.
 Pheasant hunters are expected to harvest about 290,000 roosters this fall. That's up from last year's estimated harvest of 204,000 – the lowest harvest in 25 years. It’s also  roughly half the number taken during the 2005-2008 seasons.
"While the 2012 increase reflects movement in a positive direction, the counts still remain 51 percent below the 10-year average," said Kurt Haroldson, the Department of Natural Resources biologist who compiled the survey.
The DNR said that while favorable weather worked in the birds' favor this year, their long-term success is more closely linked to habitat than annual variations in snowfall, rainfall and temperature.
"The state's pheasant population is linked more closely to quantity and quality of habitat than annual differences in weather," Haroldson said.
Here’s more from the DNR news release:
The highest pheasant counts were in the west central region, where observers reported 58 birds per 100 miles of survey driven. Hunters will find good harvest opportunities in portions of west central, east central and southwest Minnesota.
The most important habitat for pheasants is grassland that remains undisturbed during the nesting season. Protected grasslands account for about 6 percent of the state's pheasant range. Farmland retirement programs such as Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CRP), Reinvest in Minnesota and Wetlands Reserve Program make up the largest portion of protected grasslands in the state.
High land rental rates and competing uses for farmland diminish the economic attractiveness of farmland conservation programs. During the next three years, contracts for 620,000 acres of CRP lands are scheduled to expire. If not re-enrolled, this would reduce CRP acres in Minnesota by 42 percent.
Iowa’s pheasant population has increased 16 percent from last year, based on its roadside survey.
“We expected to see an increase after the first mild winter in five years, and we have, but it will take another two to three years of good weather for the population to fully recover from five straight years of heavy snow and cool wet springs,” said Todd Bogenschutz, upland wildlife research biologist for the DNR. 
The average birds counted per 30 mile route statewide increased from 6.8 birds to 8 birds in 2012.  The highest pheasant counts per route are in the northwest, with 16, the central region, with 13, and north-central region with 10.

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